Steep canyon walls dominate this wooded site next to a creek in California's Big Sur region. When the owners first commissioned us, local governing agencies were intent on leaving the land as it was-overgrown and uninhabited. However, working with ten consultants over three and a half years, we satisfied all the requirements necessary to build a modernist 2,500-square-foot two-bedroom family retreat here.
The structure sits lightly on the land, respecting the ecologically fragile nature of the site, and is precisely attuned to its forces. A formal object in a natural context-like Stevens's jar on a hill-the house holds its own in this tall, cavernous place, neither dominating it nor dwarfed by it.
The building is composed of four volumes made of different interwoven materials that create visually and spatially complex exterior and interior spaces. The main volume, clad in standing seam copper, runs parallel to the canyon. Its thin butterfly roof sits delicately above a band of extruded channel glass, connected to the roof structure by thin rods that are invisible from the exterior. These rodlike columns, which become wider as they go further down into the walls, are used to lift the entire structure two and a half feet off the ground, reducing its impact on the land. At both ends of the house, two-story clear windows frame views of the redwoods and the canyon ridge, bringing in vistas of the sky-sunny by day, starry by night.
A one-story volume in the front half of the house comprises all of the service functions-cooking, bathing, washing-while a custom steel-and-glass volume at the back opens to views of the creek. The fourth volume, the staircase, clad in stucco, acts as both the house''s seismic structural brace and a visual foil to the shimmering, transparent volumes floating around it.
The plan explores the tensions inherent in family getaways: open areas for communal living; private spaces for solitary retreats; and outdoor expanses for relaxation. A combination of transparent glass and extruded channel glass reflects and dapples the light throughout, creating a dynamic play of brightness and shadow.